The Health, Safety and well-being of the child

“Children need to feel safe and secure but they also need opportunities to take risks and to tackle challenges, developing confidence and self-esteem” When thinking about the topic of risk taking, my initial step was to find a definition. Stephenson (2003) explained that risk taking is ‘attempting something never done before; feeling on the borderline of ‘out of control’ often because of height or speed, and overcoming fear’. Young children encounter these risks several times a day.

In the baby it could be trying to sit up and then falling backwards; the toddler stepping that little further and falling down, and in the older child by riding their bike without stabilisers. Stephenson (2003) went on to talk about the feeling of elation when a child succeeds. Initially Susan Isaacs theorised that children should not be restrained by adult intervention, she believed that children should make their own choices, this included risk taking. My understanding is that Susan Isaacs believed that risk taking should not be limited and children should be encouraged at every opportunity.

There are a range of issues in the area of risk taking that adult carers need to be aware of. These are both indoor and outdoor risks in both the home and early years setting. Indoor risk taking could be anything from closing a door for a toddler, to scribing in a new and different colour for a four year old. Risk taking can be both physical and emotional. A child that struggles to socialise with a group may see an element of risk taking as sitting with children who are unfamiliar to him. Although in many settings, physical risk taking occurs mainly outdoors. An adult carer needs to think of many issues if a child is to participate fully in risk taking.

Often it may involve a certain element of danger. The adult should be aware of and follow the necessary rules and regulations set in place, to ensure a safe and controlled environment, to a certain extent. If the adult is in a situation where a parent or guardian is not present, they should ensure full parental consent is received before embarking upon an activity. Often the adult carer can use ‘reverse psychology’ to ensure the children understands why the adults are curtailing the activity that involves any element of risk. This could be the adult asking the children what the possible risks to their safety are before they begin.

The children are then aware of the boundaries, and have agreed on the necessary safety elements involved. At all times the children should be monitored to ensure that a child is not feeling pressured into partaking in an activity they are not ready for, this can affect future learning. Young children view risk in levels of ‘scariness’. Stephenson (1996) found that children based their level on previous experiences, both positive and negative. Although the negative aspect appeared to curtail further risk taking in the previous negative environment.

In regard to the physical and emotional aspects, these can have positive or negative sensations in later life. Children base their future actions on previous actions. Although they are initially scared and nervous to try something new, once the child has achieved their target, Stephenson wrote that ‘Foreboding was replaced by elation when she conquered her fear’. The adult carer needs to be aware of a child’s need to a challenge and the support needed to achieve. The achievement is not always positive, such as falling off a climbing frame, but it can be turned into the positive by helping the child to learn from previous experiences and mistakes. Adult carers should also consider that what is considered as an acceptable risk in one community, may be completely unacceptable in another. The adult should be sensitive to their surrounding environment and include cultural awareness when determening a mutually agreeable level of risk.

Children need to take risks in every day life. Stine (1997) implied that a challenge is important in the developing of competence. He thought that a suitable balance needs to be achieved between the access for the child to the risk and the security that is in place for the activity. In an outdoor setting this could be a climbing frame that is used by various age groups. The younger children are attempting the first few steps and the older children are attempting the monkey bars. They are all risk taking on their own levels. The children are choosing to participate and are allowing themselves to be part of a risk taking process.

The older children would not be at the top if they had not started with small steps, building on previous experience to get higher. An adult carer should be aware of individual children’s needs and build upon them. Stephenson (2003) posed two questions in relation to risk taking; the first one is ‘How can we juggle the requirement for safety with the need to provide children with the physical challenge, when regulations that govern our playgrounds are becoming increasingly restrictive ?’ The rules governing our outdoor play areas are becoming more and more restrictive. Although the need for safety is acknowledged, children need to learn by experience. Susan Isaacs felt that when her theories were ‘tested’ at The Malting House, some were unworkable. An example of this was that one theory meant that the children were not to be restrained in any way.

This included physical and emotional risk taking. They were to have a schooling that was free from physical and emotional restraints. The children were intrigued by an old metal roof that was extremely unstable. Rather then stop them climbing up (eliminating the danger factor) and never finding out for themselves the result behind the risk, she limited the activity of climbing on the roof to one child at a time.

In the modern day, adults would never subject children to such a risk, and quite understandably. My point is adults are moving too far into the realm of being too safe. Stephenson’s second question was, ‘If children are not able to confront and conquer risky physical activities are there some less obvious longer term implications we should be thinking about?’ As mentioned previously, part of a child’s natural curiosity needs to be satisfied. If we are not satisfying that natural curiosity, will future generations struggle to cross the road, as the road and the traffic upon it are ‘too risky and scary’.

The adult carer needs to be aware that if they set about curtailing natural curiosity, we will be driving the children to a very boring and unchallenging world. Froebel argued that children’s best thinking is done when they are playing. Did he mean that the play should be limited and restricted in some way, making it safe play doesn’t necessarily make it good play. The adult should not make the play safe by taking over or initiating play; The adult will be in a better position if they watch and scaffold the children’s development. Therefore still allowing free-flow play.

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